Chapter 06

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“What about this one?” I ask, coming out of my closet and twirling in front front of my iPhone, which is propped up and resting on the dresser so Kate can see me over FaceTime. The steady tap of her fingers on the keyboard stops and she turns to look at me.

“Mmm, boring. I liked the one with the blush colored skinny trousers.”

“I’m not going to a garden party, Kate. I’m going to a job interview.”

She rolls her eyes. “An interview for a job that you’ve already been offered. I don’t know why you’re freaking out over this.”

“The person who thinks I’m a good fit isn’t the person who will decide whether or not I get the job. I have to impress the CEO. And, based on Christian’s overly optimistic attitude this morning, I’m guessing that’s going to be difficult.”

“Is it a he or a she?”

“She, I think.”

“Then go with the navy pants, the floral top, and the white blazer. Clean. Professional. Pretty.”

“Okay, let me put that back on…”

“Ana!” I turn back to my phone and find her staring impatiently back at me, her head resting in her hand. “You’re going to be fine. I love you, but I’ve got a meeting. I need to go.”

“But–”

“Call me when your interview is over and we’ll make plans to celebrate the job I know you’re going to get. Because you are going to get it, Ana.”

I smile. “Okay. I love you.”

“Love you too. Bye!” The screen goes black as she hangs up. I reach over to pick up my phone and toss it onto the bed while I start digging through the pile of clothes again for the outfit Kate suggested. Once I’m dressed and I’ve made sure my hair and makeup are perfect, I make my way down to my office where I’ve left a copy of my resume, the sales reports from SIP during my tenure, and the plan I’ve written up for how to get GSP off the ground again. But that’s not the only thing I find on my desk.

Sitting there, right in front of my keyboard, is a beautiful carry-all bag by Saint Laurent.  The rolled tote handles and silver buckles make it pretty and feminine, while the smooth black leather is chic and professional. There’s plenty of room inside for my laptop and files, and while I’m going  through the different pockets, I find a note from Christian.

 

I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need it. You truly are incredible.

I love you, Anastasia

-Christian

 

Ps. Don’t go today. Come work for me.

 

I smile, bring the note to my lips and softly kiss the indents from where his pen scribbled across the paper. Then I tuck the note into the pocket of my blazer so I can read it over and over again before my interview, and start filling the bag with everything I’ve prepared for this morning.

Feeling much more confident with Christian’s words of encouragement in my pocket, I head into the kitchen where Kensie is feeding Calliope in her high chair. Her cheeks are flushed red, there’s food all over her tray, and the nanny looks like she’s been through the ringer already. Without even hearing Calliope speak, I can tell she’s not having it this morning and my stomach clenches with anxiety at the thought of leaving her behind with the nanny while I go out to do something that would effectively turn her entire world upside down.

“Mmm,” Kensie says, scooping up a bite of pureed bananas with coconut milk and fresh ground cinnamon. She lifts the spoon and tilts it towards her mouth, but Callie squishes her lips together defiantly then reaches out and bats the spoon away.

“No.”

“Come on, Callie…” Kensie’s body deflates as she picks up the spoon. But, before she can try to feed her the mush again, Callie turns and sees me hovering in the doorway. Immediately, she starts to squirm and reach for me.

“Dada. Dada.”

“No, baby. You have to eat your breakfast.”

The anguish on her face is clear as she tries to stretch further towards me, and when I don’t move to pick her up, that anguish turns to anger, then tears. She screams and kicks, squirming and bouncing in her seat enough that I’m worried she may knock the high chair off balance. The red in her face deepens as she struggles to breathe through the cries trembling in her throat.

It’s too much. I break.

“Oh dear, Calliope,” I say, pulling her out of her chair and into my arms. She snuggles into me, burying her face into my blazer and soaking it in her tears.

“Ana, your jacket!”

“It’s fine.” I hold her tightly against me and bounce her until her tears die down and the only sound she makes come from her soft sniffles. With her tantrum past, Kensie tries to take her from me again, but Calliope’s fists tighten around the lapels of my jacket the moment the nanny touches her and her screams come full force again.

“I’ve gotta go bye-bye, baby,” I tell her, trying suppress the guilt pulsating throughout my entire body.

“No! No!” Her face crinkles with overdramatic agony once again, but I’ve already spent too much time deliberating over outfits this morning. I’m going to be late if I don’t leave right now and that’s not the first impression I want to make.

I kiss her on the head, and then shift so I can pass her off to Kensie. “I’m sorry, I have to leave. I need you to take her.”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Grey,” she says. “She’ll be fine once you’re gone.”

“I hope so. Call me if you need anything, I’ll have my cell.”

“I will. Good luck!”

“Thanks.” I lean over and kiss each of Calliope’s cheeks one last time and then brush my fingers through the thin, dark curls on top of her head. “Bye, bye, baby.”

She wails again as I turn to go, but before I make it out of the kitchen, she calls out for me and it stops me dead in my tracks.

“No, mama! No, mama!”

“What did she–” I breathe, turning around to face them again. “Did she just say mama?”

“Yeah,” Kensie says, smiling. “Yeah, I think she did. Callie, who is that?”

“No, mama.”

It hits me fast. I gasp and tears spring hot and wet to my eyes. My baby reaches out for me, her fists clenching the air over and over again as she calls out for me. Me. And I can’t go to her. If I give in now, and miss this interview, there won’t be another one.

“Mrs. Grey?” I turn and see Woods hovering in the entryway behind me. “The car’s out front. Are you ready?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready.” With a deep breath, I turn back to face my baby and her quivering bottom lip, then quickly dash the tears from my cheeks and try to smile through the hurt I feel with every beat of my heart.  

“I love you, baby girl. Mama will see you tonight, okay?”

“No, mama.”

“Bye.” She starts to scream again as I leave the kitchen and each piercing cry weighs heavily on my resolve, even after I’m through the front door. The very first morning I’ve had to rely on Kensie to get her out of bed and ready for the day, and Calliope’s already in a stage five meltdown. If I get this job, this will be the new normal, and I’m not sure she’s ready for that. While Woods pulls down the drive and through our front gate, my heart feels as though it’s being pulled apart by the conflict my mind is battling over.

Maybe it isn’t a good idea to take a job that will keep me out of the house every day, the way Christian is. Or, maybe this is just further proof that I’ve made a mistake by insisting Calliope never leave my side these last few months. Other mothers work, this shouldn’t be this hard. But it is. It’s agony and it’s the first real struggle I’ve felt over the idea of starting a career.

 

The drive into downtown Seattle does nothing to alleviate my guilt over leaving Calliope, or to quell my nerves over the impending interview. Woods takes the same exit off the freeway we used to take before we moved, then turns north up 4th avenue in the same direction as Escala. This neighborhood is blanketed by the shadow of my old life, and looking at it now just makes me feel worse. That Thai restaurant on the corner was Christian’s and my favorite place to order in from when Gail was off on the weekends and I didn’t feel like cooking anything. The baby boutique we pass as we go through the light is the same store where I bought most of Calliope’s newborn clothes and the blanket that she still has to have with her at all times. Kate and I got our nails done at that salon before my wedding, I dropped my dad’s birthday and christmas packages off at that post office when he was still deployed, and Christian and I walked down that hill when we went to the market on what I now consider to be our first date, post break up. Driving up this street feels like walking into my childhood home decades after I’ve moved away. There’s a sweet kind of reminiscence, but it’s tainted with a pain that comes from the evidence that life here has gone on without me, while I’ve been unable to move on at all.

Relax, Anastasia. That’s what today is about. Moving on.

I glance up at the blue, reflective glass on the face of Escala as we pass, but the confusing medley of the best and worst memories of my life are very suddenly interrupted by the shrill, insistent ring of my phone. Shaking away the daze, I begin fumbling through the bag Christian gave me this morning, pull out my cell, and answer the call.

“Hey, Ros,” I say, surprised to see her name on my caller ID. “What’s going on?”

“Oh you know, just struggling to hang on to whatever last bit of sanity I have left before your husband really drives me over the edge. Same old, same old.”

“Oh, no. What’s he doing now?”

“It’s just this stupid R&D project. I’ve never seen Christian so obsessed with anything in my life. It’s like no matter how many experts, which he brings in himself mind you, tell him that what he’s trying to do physically can’t be done, he won’t be deterred. I’m telling you, Ana, he’s down the rabbit hole and if he doesn’t come out himself, soon, I’m going to put a hose down there.”

I laugh. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m not really crazy about this project myself, but I took vows, so I have to be on his side.”

“What about my side, Ana?” she asks, playful sarcasm dripping from each word.

“Well come up with a project you’re passionate about that Christian thinks is stupid and I’ll back you up. It probably won’t change anything, but the sentiment will be there all the same.”

“Thanks.” Her deadpan reply has us both laughing, but as Woods signals to pull out of traffic and park against the curb in front of GSP, I have to quickly reign it in.

“Hey, I’m about to go into a meeting, is there something you needed? You know, besides venting about how much my husband irritates you.”

“Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you about Kate’s baby shower. It’s looking like Christian and I have are going to have to go to Taiwan in the next couple weeks and if I can schedule it so that I won’t miss the shower, I will.”

“Oh.” My heart sinks as I think about spending days at home without Christian, and when I continue, that disappointment is apparent in my response. “It’s on the 10th.”

“Ugh… that might mean we need to go this weekend, then.”

This weekend?

“No, that’s perfect!” I say, a little too quickly. “I mean, Mia got into Harvard, so I’m taking her to Cambridge this weekend for orientation. We’ll be gone. So, it’s a good time for Christian to go away for business.” And he’ll be distracted.

“Oh. Well, I’ll see what he thinks then. If I can get even a few seconds with him, that is. He’s been barricaded in his office with R&D all morning.” She sighs. “Well, good luck with your meeting, Ana. Lunch sometime?”

“Yeah, I’d like that. Bye, Ros.”

“Bye!”

I hang up, then stew in the conflicting thoughts and feelings I’m left with after that conversation. Ros isn’t crazy about Christian’s take over the world plan, either. And that’s the second time I’ve heard someone say what he’s trying to do is impossible. It’s comforting in a way, because I think Christian’s quest for power is a bit antithetical to what he’s after. With power comes notoriety, and his desire for dominion will never be uncontested. The higher he rises, the harder he’ll fall, so to me it seems foolish to climb the ladder at all. But if he fails at this, if he believes that he let the one thing that could keep our family safe slip through his fingers… it’ll destroy him. I know that better than anyone. So, I can’t let that happen. Everything I do, every waking thought I have is about protecting him and Calliope, even if that means I have to protect him from himself.

I just don’t know yet what that means in this case.

“Mrs. Grey, we’re going to be late.”

I look up and make eye contact in the rear-view mirror. “Right. Thank you, Woods.”

He gets out of the car first to open an umbrella for me before I step out beneath the steady deluge of rain falling from the dark, ubiquitous cover of clouds over head. I try not to take that as a bad omen, it’s just February in Seattle.

We step into the building and then make our way to the elevators. Unlike the office I worked in at SIP, Greenwich doesn’t have it’s own building. The office space is located on the third floor of an old, multipurpose building that is cramped in a lot of ways, but that has a lot of character. Even the inside of the elevator is made of old wood paneling with exposed mechanical elements that creak and grind as we climb our way up the building.

When the doors open we’re released into a small reception area with a set of twin doors directly in front of us that bear the name Greenwich Small Press in brass letters. Past that, we walk into an open, industrial looking office with exposed beams and brick surrounding a dozen or so mismatched desks scattered around the hardwood floor.

“Hello,” the young woman behind the reception counter greets us. “Welcome to Greenwich Publishing. How can I help you today?”

I smile at her. “Yes, my name is Anastasia Grey, I’m here to see Mr. Scott Wall–”

“And there she is!” A booming voice interrupts me from across the room. I turn and see Mr. Wallace walking towards Woods and I with a broad smile stretched across his face. As he approaches, he reaches out his hand, which I take in a firm, confident handshake.

“Good morning, Mr. Wallace.”

“Please, Scott. If you’re going to take over the Seattle office, you and I are going to be working very closely together. We should be on a first name basis. Anastasia?”

“Ana,” I correct him, and his grin broadens before he turns to face the receptionist.

“We’ll be in my office, Penny, or… Ana’s office, I suppose.” He turns to wink at me. “Page me when Carmen gets here.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Carmen?” I ask.

“Our CEO. She’s running a little behind this morning, but she’s on her way. Come, I’ll give you a tour.”

Woods takes a seat at reception as Wallace walks me around the building. It’s not much, and since there aren’t many walls to the place a tour seems a little pointless. But he introduces me to some of the people I’d have under me if I were to be hired, shows me the breakroom, and a closet sized cubby he calls the copy room. I try to be gracious, despite my growing nerves, but by the time he takes me to the one and only office at the back of the building, the CEO still hasn’t arrived for my interview.

“And this will be yours,” Wallace says as he ushers me through the door. “Please, have a seat, Ana.”

“Thank you.” I step into the office, taking a quick glance around the space before I sit in the chair on the close side of the desk. It’s not as extravagant as Christian’s office at GEH, or even my own office back at home, but it’s not terrible. A few personal touches could make it feel really homey, and I bet the window on the back wall lets in the perfect amount of light on sunny spring days.

“Well,” Wallace begins, as he sits in the chair behind the desk. “How are you feeling? Nervous?”

“A bit,” I admit. “As weird as it sounds, this is my first real interview since I applied to college.”

“You’re going to be great, and I’ll be here the whole time. Carmen can be a little cold, but your record is undeniable.”

“Luckily, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in dealing with cold CEOs,” I say with a smile, and he laughs until he’s interrupted by a long drawn out beep.

“Mr. Wallace?” Penny’s disembodied voice says over the intercom on his desk phone. “Ms. Gallagher is here.”

“Excellent, send her back.” He gets out of his seat, buttoning his jacket as he stands as though the President of the United States is about to enter the room. Taking my cue, I hurriedly scramble to my feet and turn to face the door. Seconds later, a woman enters and I’m immediately struck by the commanding aura she carries with her. She’s beautiful, and younger than I expected, which shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as it is because of who I’m married to. Her skin is dark and flawless, as is her hair. Her nails are beautifully manicured, her makeup is impeccable, and her clothes are the perfect harmony of power and femininity. But just like my husband, it’s her eyes that I’m really drawn to.

The dynamic gray that looks down at me every day has always been my best insight to what’s going on in Christian’s mind. They can be cold and hard like steel when he’s angry or bright and fluid like molten iron when he’s in a good mood. The same seems to be true of Ms. Gallagher. Her eyes are an extremely deep brown, almost black, which I imagine could be warm and comforting when she laughs, or dark and intimidating when she doesn’t. Unfortunately, right now, it’s the latter.

“Mrs. Grey,” she says, reaching out to shake my hand. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. Traffic here is ridiculous. But it’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“A-again?” I stutter, taken off guard.

Her hand, still gripped in mine, stops moving and she subtly raises one of her well groomed eyebrows. “Yes, Mrs. Grey. We’ve met several times. In fact, I was invited to your wedding, or… your fake wedding, I suppose.”

My cheeks heat. “Right, I’m sorry. Christian was just trying to–”

“Waste everyone’s time? Yeah, he’s good at that. I certainly hope that’s not why you’re here today.”

“Uh.. no. Of course not.”

“Good. Then have a seat.” She moves around the desk to where Mr. Wallace is sitting and the second he meets her gaze, he quickly gets to his feet and offers her his chair.

“Thank you, Scott.” She gracefully lowers herself into the seat, so I do the same. As she settles in, Scott hovers uncomfortably behind her, as though he’s not sure if he should stand through the interview or find a different chair. Ultimately, he decides to take a few paces back and lean against the wall, but his I’m trying to look casual but am actually really uncomfortable stance is distracting.

“Alright,” Ms. Gallagher says at last. “Let’s get started, shall we? Tell me about yourself, Ana.”

“Well, I graduated summa cum laude from Harvard last year, and immediately after that I released my debut novel, Escape, which was a New York Times bestseller. I’ve done press, marketing, book tours, so I’m fully versed on the release process. And… let’s see, I’ve spent the last nine months writing, exploring new topics and genres. That’s been a truly rewarding experience, but I’ve realized through some serious introspection and discussions that I’ve had with some of my readers and other writers that what I really want is to get back into publishing, on the business side. Helping others is a true passion of mine and discovering new, talented authors and giving them the chance to realize the dream of seeing their work in print is what really inspires me.”

Back into publishing?”

“Yeah,” Wallace interrupts. “Here, I have her resume–”

“She’s right in front of me, Scott. Why would I read her past experience off a sheet of paper when she’s here, right now, in person? Do you think she’s incapable of expressing thoughts and ideas aloud? Have you brought me a candidate who is incapable of speech or conversation?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good, then if you don’t mind, I’ll ask the questions I feel are necessary to determine whether or not Mrs. Grey here is a good candidate for this position.”

He blanches, like a child who’s just been scolded, then nods. “Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“Thank you. Now, Mrs. Grey, you said you’ve had previous experience in publishing?”

“Yes, I interned for a local publishing house while I was still in school.”

“She’s being modest,” Wallace interjects again. “Anastasia oversaw the transition of SIP to Grey Publishing and much of the success GP has seen over the past two years can be attributed to the foundation she laid during her tenure there. She discovered and signed Boyce Fox herself. And what she did to turn the company around in such a short period of time is impressive when you consider that she was only a junior in college at the time.”

“Her husband’s company, you mean?” She turns to look at me and I can see the skepticism reflected in her eyes and in the lines around the curves of her mouth. “I assume your husband hired you for that internship?”

“Yes, but he wasn’t my husband then.”

“I see.” She crosses her legs and leans back, staring at me. It feels invasive, like her gaze can see right through me and as she does she doesn’t discover anything that gives her a great deal of confidence. “How’d you get to Harvard?”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s an impressive school and as far as I know Christian Grey isn’t on the admissions board, so how did you find yourself admitted to a top tier ivy? Are you a legacy?”

“No, I was actually the first person in my family to go to college.”

“Ah, an overachiever.”

“No.” My voice is curt as the almost dismissive kind of allegation in her tone triggers a defensive reaction. “I work hard for the things I care about. Harvard was a dream of mine from a very young age and I did everything I could to make that dream a reality. It took determination and sacrifice, from myself and from my family. To simply dismiss that as overachieving is quite frankly insulting.”

“Insulting? That seems dramatic.”

“Well, you’re not the first person I’ve met to insinuate that an ivy league education is meant for a specific subset of people, legacies for example, and that anyone not fortunate enough to be born into that small, elite group, is somehow stepping out of their rightful place.”

My words, sharp as they are, draw no reaction out of the woman across from me. She stares back at me with the same mask of cool impassivity I’ve seen Christian use over and over again, and her lack of response to the challenge I’ve not so subtly laid out for her weighs heavily on the atmosphere around us.

“Can’t deny it,” Wallace says with an awkward laugh. “She’s got fire.”

“Mmm,” Ms. Gallagher agrees with a half-hearted nod. She leans forward, folding her hands on the desk in front of her, and continues to probe me with her eyes. “Why are you here, Anastasia?”

There’s an accusation beneath the blatant question that takes me a moment to get past, so for several seconds I’m rendered speechless. And she stares, without remorse or regret, until I find my voice again.

“I’m sorry, have I done something to offend you?”

“Not at all, though I must admit I’m suspicious of your motives. There’s a publishing house just down the street that bears your own name, one you’ve already made your mark upon. So, my question is, why are you here?”

“Because Grey Publishing doesn’t need me, you do. This is what I’m good at, Mrs. Gallagher. I’ve seen the numbers and I’ve researched your authors. You haven’t had a release sell more than 2,500 copies in over eighteen months. And now that the Stormy Nights Saga is over, you have nothing left to make up for the dismal sales of the rest of your titles. Your publishing house is bleeding, I can help you fix it.”

“Help me? Is that what you call it?” In an instant, Ms. Gallagher’s restraint fades away and is replaced with fiery indignation. “I don’t subscribe to the Grey Method of acquisition, Anastasia. If your husband wants my publishing house, he’s going to have to try a whole lot harder than sending his wife to take it for him.”

I blink. “What?”

“We’re not for sale.”

“You think Christian sent me here as some kind of corporate sabotage?” I ask in disbelief. She lifts her eyebrows in a clear indication that she does, and I’m so floored by the audacity of her dismissal I feel like I could fall out of my chair. Anger flairs in my gut, intense enough that I’m unable to think past it enough to hold back the words that come out next.

“Perhaps the reason you don’t subscribe to the Grey Method, Ms. Gallagher, is because you don’t understand it. My husband wouldn’t waste my time trying to cripple a business he wanted, nor would he exhaust the resources it would take GEH to build it back up again. If he wanted your company, all he’d have to do is wait you out because what you’re doing right now is making it real easy for him.”

“I’m aware of our situation, and I assure you I don’t need a Grey to resolve my company’s problems for me.”

“Then good luck, Ms. Gallagher. I truly hope you find someone to run this office who is able to look past a petty rivalry and do what’s necessary to right this ship. Anything else would be a serious injustice to the authors who have put their faith in you and trusted you with their lives’ work.”

I stand up and snatch my briefcase off the floor, but before I turn to leave, I lean over the desk and press my finger into the wood right in front of her. “And for the record, my last name might be Grey now, but I’m still Anastasia Steele, and if you don’t understand what that means, then you’ve got a lot to learn about the Seattle publishing industry.”

The rage allows me to maintain my confidence all the way through the door. I snap at Woods as I storm through the lobby and push through the front doors towards the SUV. Once I’m inside though, my adrenaline rush crashes and tears spring to my eyes.

“Is everything alright, Mrs. Grey?” Woods asks.

I shake my head. “God, I’m so stupid. I don’t know why I ever thought…” My words cut off as my throat starts to tighten and I have to swallow to clear away the choking sobs before I can speak again. “Will you just take me to GEH, please?”

“Right away, ma’am.” He turns to face forward in his seat again, starts the car, and slowly pulls out into traffic. I let my head fall back into the headrest and close my eyes, chastising myself over and over again for letting myself believe once again that my experience and talent would be able to outweigh my last name. But just like with Escape, my connection to Christian is once again all people see in me. The thought is depressing and as we turn up Virginia St. towards GEH, I once again glance up at Escala and feel the remnants of all the darkness it represents to me now wash down upon me like the raindrops currently running in steady streams across the window.

 

We drive for less than five minutes before we pull into the garage below GEH. Just like the rest of Christian’s shiny new building, the garage is huge and over the top. The smooth concrete drive winds its way five stories below ground level, but because I’m in a car with top security clearance we’re waived through the gate on the top floor and directed to a space in between Christian’s brand new Ferrari and Ros’ much more sensible Audi sedan. From there, it’s a short trip to the elevator and then a long ride up to the 29th floor.

The doors open to a huge, open lobby area, with shiny white floors and walls of either flat white or a pale silver stone. The dark gray marble desk, where Andrea and Olivia are sitting, stands stark and imposing in front of frosted glass that has the familiar GREY logo etched into it.

I grip the straps of my bag over my shoulder more tightly as I step into the reception area, and both Andrea and Olivia look up and smile at me as I approach.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Grey,” Olivia greets me.

“Hello, Olivia. Andrea. Is he in his office?”

“Actually, he’s in a…” Andrea pauses, looking conflicted for a moment, then shakes her head. “Nevermind, I forgot for a second who I was talking to. Yes, he’s in his office. Can I get you anything?”

“No, thank you, Andrea. I won’t be long.” I continue forward, past the expensive custom art Christian had commissioned by Seattle’s most prominent artists, and the glass and steel doors that lead into the boardroom where Christian holds meetings with his executive team. Around the corner, I pass Taylor’s office, then Ros’, until eventually I reach the double doors that lead into Christian’s office, the only dark fixture on this entire floor.

I don’t knock before I go in and once the door closes behind me, several pairs of eyes look up at me with annoyance. But the irritation in the gray set behind the imposing desk at the center of the room vanishes almost instantly.

“Anastasia?”

“Hi.” Though my voice is weak, the lingering tremble from the tears I only just managed to stop before getting into the elevator is obvious, at least to Christian. His face melts with worry and then his eyes quickly dart to the men surrounding his desk.

“Leave us, please.”

“Mr. Grey,” Welch argues, but Christian’s eyes flash in warning as he turns to the head of his R&D department.

“I said leave us.”

His shoulders rise and fall as he takes a deep breath, but he nods and gathers the papers spread out across the desk in front of him. One by one the men file past me, though I don’t make eye contact with any of them. Woods is the last to leave and once I hear the door close behind me, my bottom lip begins to tremble again.

“Hey,” Christian says, turning in his chair, but I hurry forward before he can get up and then crawl into his lap. “What’s wrong, baby?”

“It was awful. She was rude, and dismissive, and she thinks the only reason I was there was so I could infiltrate GSP and take it down from the inside so that you could buy the pieces for cheap.”

“Well, that’s…  actually, that’s not a bad idea.”

“Christian!”

He smiles. “I’m sorry. I should have warned you better. The Gallagher Corporation is GEH’s biggest competitor in the green tech industry and Carmen Gallagher and I have gone toe to toe several times over new acquisitions. She hates me, and there was no way you were going to overcome that.”

“So that’s why you sent me? You knew I didn’t have a real chance at GSP and once she turned me away, I’d have to come work for you?”

“I’m not a gambling man, Anastasia. I don’t make a bet unless I know I’m going to win.”  

“Remind me to have that stitched on a sampler.”

He laughs and wraps his arms around me more tightly. At first, I almost want to push him away. He set me up. In true Christian form, he’s laid out the path he wants for me to follow and then blindly sent me down it. If he knew GSP was out of the picture, he should have told me that. But that would probably have made me simply look into other publishing houses in the area, and this way, he has a promise I’ll come work for him.

It’s clever. Manipulative, but clever. But try as I do to be irritated with him, it’s impossible. While he holds me, a lot of the hurt and embarrassment I felt immediately after leaving GSP slowly begins to wash away. I breathe in his scent and feel his lips press against my forehead, and it’s calming. His embrace sends a  familiar kind of comfort through my entire body, until it’s impossible for me to care about the combative interview I just endured, and as the tension relaxes out of my muscles, I snuggle into his chest and hum with content.

He loves me. That’s why he didn’t warn me about Carmen Gallagher. He loves me and he wants me around, even at work.

“Maybe you’re right, as usual,” I sigh. “Maybe Grey Publishing would be better for me. I won’t have anything to prove or any egos to fight. I mean, there’s nothing for me to change or rebuild. I won’t be leading a miraculous turn around or carving out my own path and proving I can make it in this industry without the help of my last name, but I might be okay with just running the GP fiction department. Maybe I’ve already proved what I have to prove. Maybe it’s time for me to show that I’m just as adept at maintaining the status quo as I am at building something new.”

“There’s still a lot you can do, Ana, and I know that you’re going to be great. Carmen Gallagher might not know what you bring to the table, but I do. Like I said, I never make a bet that I don’t know I can win, and I’ll always bet on you.”

I pivot so I can look up into his eyes, and the sincerity I see reflected there makes smile. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“Should I start a list?”

“Yes.” My eyes glimmer with mirth and he smiles, then leans down and kisses the tip of my nose. Between each new reason he gives me, he kisses a different part of my face.

“You’re smart. Funny. Kind. Beautiful. Sexy. Loving. Talented. Warm. And you make beautiful babies.”

“Mmm.” I lean up and nuzzle the tip of my nose against his, which soon melts into a soft, deep kiss. “Speaking of babies…” I say when I finally pull away from his lips. “Calliope said ‘mama’ this morning.”

“She did?”

“Mhm, but only so she could scream at me for leaving her. I’m starting to think its not a good idea to have her home all day, every day, around the same four people. She’s really attached to you and me, and if we’re both going to be working, it might not be such a bad idea to help her make some friends. Make her a little less dependent.”

“You mean… you’re going to let me bring her into daycare?”

I nod. “She’ll be closer to us here than she would be at home, and if we send Kensie with her, she’ll still have one on one attention. Besides, Kate and I met at school when we were really young, maybe letting her socialize with some other kids will give her the chance to form friendships that could last a lifetime.”

“Even if those other kids have colds and germs?”

I laugh. “Even if they have germs.”

“Then I’ll discuss it when Mackensie tonight. And I’ll call Elizabeth to let her know you’ll be starting next week.”

“Okay.”

“Welcome aboard, Mrs. Grey. It’ll be a pleasure working with you.”

“Oh I don’t know about that,” I say, rolling my eyes. “From nine to five, I’m going to be one of your employees, Mr. Grey. Which means you’re going to have to learn to control yourself.” I sit up and lean into him so that my lips are pressed right against his ear. “No matter how many times I forget to wear panties to work.”

His breath hisses between his teeth and his hands twist into the hair at the back of my head so he can tilt my face towards his lips, but as he leans down and covers my body with his, he gets a page from Andrea.

“Mr. Grey, should I dismiss the R&D team or do you intend to continue your meeting?”

“I was just leaving, Andrea,” I answer for him, then turn and give Christian a quick peck on the lips. “We can pick up from here once you get home.”

“I’ll look forward to it, Mrs. Grey.”

After one last kiss, I climb out of his lap and straighten my clothes and make for the door. My cheeks flush slightly as I face the stares of Christian’s R&D team coming back up the hallway, but Andrea smiles as I make my way out of reception, so I smile back and wave while we wait for the elevator.

“Get in touch with Taylor,” I say to Woods as we step inside and press the button for the garage. “We’ll be starting with Grey Publishing next week and you’ll need an office close to mine.”

“Yes, ma’am. How soon after we get back from Cambridge?”

I frown. “Yeah, about Cambridge…”

He turns to look at me and raises an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“I need you to do me a favor.”

Next Chapter

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